LEXINGTON, Ky. — Barion Brown returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, Keidron Smith’s fumble return less than a minute later set up another score and No. 20 Kentucky pulled away to beat Miami 37-13 on Saturday night in the opener for both teams.
Mark Stoops’ 60th victory tied him with Paul “Bear” Bryant as the Wildcats’ winningest coach in 10 seasons with the program. He downplayed the milestone afterward and said, “You can’t put my name in the same sentence as Bear Bryant. But I’m grateful to be here this long.”
Kentucky certainly needed those game-changing plays to make it happen for Stoops after leading only 13-10 at halftime behind several missed opportunities deep in Miami territory.
The Wildcats quickly snatched momentum after the break as Brown dashed left, found a seam and turned the corner down the sideline for the big score just 13 seconds in. That TD included replay drama as the freshman appeared to let go of the football as he crossed the goal line. It was confirmed, putting Kentucky up by 10.
Tyrell Ajian then came up big on Miami’s ensuing possession to force Jaylon Bester’s fumble that Smith returned 23 yards to the 8. Will Levis hit Chauncey Magwood with an 8-yard scoring pass two later for a 27-10 cushion. Alter product Matt Ruffalo added a 50-yard field goal and Levis tossed a 1-yard scoring pass to Dane Key and finished with 303 yards passing and three TDs and an interception. Ruffalo booted three field goals for the Wildcats.
“We did some good things at times,” Stoops added. “Had some drives and didn’t capitalize. A lot of things to improve on.”
Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson supplied Kentucky’s other chunk plays, catching six passes for a career-high 136 yards in his Wildcats debut. His first touch went for 45 yards to set up Levis’ 6-yard TD pass to Brenden Bates on the Wildcats’ first possession to tie it at 7.
Miami managed to tie the game at 10 and stifled Kentucky at times in the first half but only managed Graham Nicholson’s 27-yard field goal midway through the third quarter. Tyre Shelton scored the Redhawks’ lone TD with a 22-yard run on their opening drive. Brett Gabbert completed 20 of 28 passes for 166 yards before leaving the game late with what coach Chuck Martin said was a non-throwing arm injury.
Kentucky outgained the Mid-American Conference school 353-290.
“We came in ready to play, ready to win,” Martin said. “But those first couple of minutes (of the second half), you can’t afford to do that against an SEC team.”
The Wildcats played without leading rusher Chris Rodriguez, who Stoops said was unavailable along with linebacker Jordan Wright without being specific. The coach added that Rodriguez and other players could face multi-game suspensions next week for undisclosed reasons.
Robert Morris at Miami, 6 p.m., ESPN3, 980, 1450
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